Exploring Transnational Dimensions of Activism in Contemporary Book Culture

deadline for submissions: 
December 1, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Studies in Book Culture/Memoires du Livre
contact email: 

“A is for Activist” is the title of a best-selling children’s board book, published in 2013 by Innosanto Nagara. This small book amplifies a large message: books can catalyze change. Publishing has both supported and hampered progressive political and social change, in a variety of international contexts. Activism in publishing is also transnational because national contexts and identities matter, but they exist within a transnational network with unequal power dynamics and “literary capital” (Casanova 2004). Building on ideas of “print activism” in the long twentieth century (Schreiber 2013), this special issue is dedicated to furthering our understanding of activism in the contemporary publishing industry – and in the research thereof. This issue aims to take activism and power dynamics as an organizing theme, looking at cultures of authorship, reading, publishing, and bookselling through an activist lens. In the footsteps of researchers who have recently examined topics of diversity and activism, such as libraries and global activism (Frances 2020), race and young adult literature (Ramdarshan Bold 2019), queer blogging and archiving (Rak 2005; Przybylo 2014), sexual harassment at international book fairs (Squires and Driscoll 2018), fan activism (Wang and Zhang 2017), and itinerant bookselling in developing economies (Opoku-Amankwa, Kande Mahama and Ry-Kottoh 2012), this issue seeks scholarship that explores and interrogates power dynamics in twenty-first century book studies, with a particular emphasis on transnational contexts and connections. We are soliciting submissions that examine activism “as a form of power that structures and delimits experience” (Travis 2008), and we encourage contributors to think about forms of transnational protest and global activism (della Porta/Tarrow 2005).

This thematic issue seeks essays on the following themes:

  • Theoretical engagement: Which theoretical work lends itself to activist publishing studies and how can we rethink traditional book studies models through an activist lens (e.g. collapsing the communications circuit, cf. Levy 2014)? How can we push the field of book studies to listen, re-think disciplinary assumptions, and engage in new ways?
  • Progressive political and social movements: How does publishing operate in contexts of repression? In what way
  • Diversity and bibliodiversity: What are the obstacles and drivers (institutional, political, economic, cultural) which contribute to publishing’s diversity deficit? Which forms of activism can or do support bibliodiversity in the industry (Audet/Jeannotte 2011; Noël 2021)?
  • Activism and identity: How is contemporary book culture used as a platform for identity-based activism (Indigenous, LGBTIQA+, elders, ethnicity, disability, migrants, refugees, youth, students, gender, language, etc.)? How do authors, translators, publishers, booksellers and cultural intermediaries such as reviewers, bloggers, bookstagrammers, as well as readers, contribute to making under-represented groups visible and heard? What are best-practice examples of gatekeepers amplifying the voices of marginalized people, and to what effect?
  • Media forms: How does the media form (audiobook, ebook, print, blog, wiki, shared document, etc.) impact activism? Which digital and nontraditional forms of publishing (zines, collaborative, self-publishing etc.) lend themselves to activist publishing activities and why?
  • Transnationalism: Which national, transnational or global contexts play into bibliodiversity (and/or the lack thereof)? How and when do we move beyond a narrow focus on national contexts, to transnational communities and support? What aspects of international power dynamics continue to affect the publishing industries in developing economies?

In line with the broad understanding of twenty-first century book studies set out by Stevie Marsden and Rachel Noorda in Book History (2019), we welcome viewpoints that incorporate new methodologies, engage with theories from other disciplines, and widen the scope of traditional book-related research. We are interested particularly in hearing from scholars from underrepresented groups and countries as its own piece of twenty-first century book studies activism to amplify the voices of scholars who are not always heard within the book history community. Abstracts for papers in either French or English of approximately 250 words and a short biographical note should be sent to Beth le Roux, Rachel Noorda and Corinna Norrick-Rühl (via Birgit Hötker-Bolte, hotkerb@uni-muenster.de) by December 1st, 2021. The editorial committee will inform authors of its decision by December 15, 2021. Selected contributors will be required to submit their full article (circa 8000 words) before May 1 st, 2022 for peer review. Final versions are to be submitted by September 15, 2022 at the latest.